Speaking with an executive colleague of mine, I asked him at one point, “Did you ever think when you were younger that you would grow up and become such a big executive?”
He answered that he was the son of Holocaust survivors and parents who were in the concentration camps, and that he never would have imagined that coming from his background, he would “make it.” He went on to humbly say, “So you see, if I could do it, then anyone can!” Of course, the reality is that not anyone can and that it takes a special combination of intellect, skills, abilities, determination, hard work, and, of course, mazel from Hashem.
After this, I wondered about my own life and why I never pursued becoming the mega-wealthy hotshot executive that perhaps I could have been. And I realized that it honestly wasn’t what I wanted out of my life and that I was “playing a different game,” where winning wasn’t how rich or powerful you were but rather how meaningful my life would be.
In a dystopian survival show that I saw recently, there is a sign that says:
Survival is insufficient.
And, to me, even grandiose boatloads of money and power were insufficient for my survival. Survival needed to be grounded in meaning and purpose in order to be sufficient. Of course, purpose has different meanings for different people, but for me, it meant being a:
- Spiritual person connected deeply to Hashem.
- Family man, close and devoted to my wife, children, grandchildren, and, of course, my parents when they were alive.
- Good influence for others that I could potentially reach with my life’s thoughts, words, and deeds.
- Fighter for Israel as the Divine Homeland of the Jewish People and say “Never Again” to our persecution.
In the end, though, the purpose was not for me to be “successful,” but rather for my life to mean something to G-d who put me here.
In this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, G-d commands the Children of Israel (Exodus 25:8):
You shall make for Me a sanctuary
Chabad Rabbi Moishe Kavka asked, “Why does G-d need to say to make the tabernacle and temples for Me—who else would it be for?” And the Rabbi explained that the Israelites gave the half shekel, precious metals, gems, and all the materials for the sanctuary, which was, of course, a magnificent and beautiful structure. However, we should not get carried away with making a temple or synagogue beautiful for us; rather, it needs to be for the glorification of Hashem!
In short, everything we do in life should be great, but not for our greatness. Everything that we do should be done with passion and determination, but not for our sakes. We are only here by the loving grace of G-d and for as long as He wills it. In our time here, we need to act in a way that means something beyond our finite, selfish mortal selves and instead be selfless for the purpose of our Creator.
While no one can say they definitely know what G-d’s purpose for them is, I believe that inside each of us, our conscience tells us when we are doing G-d’s will or when we are going astray, whether for greedy or even sadistic reasons. When your life falls into the latter category, then when your end of days arrives, you will have a “five-second funeral”—what’s a five-second funeral?
People will be sad for five seconds and then move on.
However, if you lived your life for G-d, for good, and for a greater purpose, then your inner spiritual legacy will live on beyond your years and even your name. If you build a sanctuary for G-d, it will have holiness and permanence not only in this world but, more importantly, in the next.